Monday, September 5, 2016

Review of Tarzan of the Apes

Book #30. Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Unabridged audio.
A month or so ago, I ran across an audio version of the second book in the Tarzan series, “The Return of Tarzan.” As I wrote in that review, I believed I had enough knowledge of the character from movies and general cultural osmosis to understand that sequel. But shortly thereafter, I ran across an audio version of that first novel and gave it a listen.
I still stand by the notion that reading the second book was a viable choice. But it is certainly true that reading this one gave valuable context for the story told in that novel.
The story begins in 1888, with a young aristocratic couple on a diplomatic mission to a British colony in Africa. Lord and Lady Greystoke are marooned on a remote coastline after a deadly mutiny on their boat. Lady Greystoke dies not long after giving birth to their son, and, after a giant ape kills Lord Greystoke, Kala, a female ape who's recently lost her baby, adopts the human infant and calls him "Tarzan," the word for "white skin" in the ape language. As Tarzan grows, he's torn between the world of the apes and the secrets of a shoreline cottage. The conflict only grows more intense when another group of English passengers are abandoned on the beach. This group includes an absent-minded American professor and his spirited daughter, Jane.
There is a lot that I liked about this book, including the subtlety involved in describing Tarzan teaching himself to read. And later, to speak. The scenes describing him working through his emotions regarding Jane were also strong. The inclusion of rudimentary personal identification technology (via fingerprinting) was a surprising element.
As with any book from the turn of the last century, there are moments that may make a modern reader cringe. But these do represent some views of the age in which the books take place, and serve to contextualize and characterize the novel’s protagonists.
I understand that as the series progresses, there are many ups and downs in terms of quality. But I have enjoyed both of these first two books, and expect to read the next few, if not more.
Source: HOOPLA. This is a “borrowing” app that operates through many public library systems.


  1. I read the first two Tarzan books and was pleasantly surprised by how well the story held up in current times. The only thing that turned me off was how Tarzan would tease a native African. Especially in the second book it came across like someone teasing a pet, and I haven't picked up another Tarzan book by Burroughs. My first exposure to Tarzan was the old Johnny Weissmuller films, and in the comic books, the Joe Kubert DC Tarzan series.

  2. These ones seemed "modern" in more ways than the John Carter novels do, although I also like them.